Black Foliage Shrubs to Add Color to the Border

Elderberries, Sambucus nigra
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Trees and shrubs add four-season structure to a garden. They are considered the bones of a garden's design. When using a shrub as an accent or focal point, the shrub had better have something interesting to call attention to it. Elderberries (Sambucus) have long been garden favorites because so many shrubs in the species Sambucus offer great foliage, fall color, and wonderful berries. Sambucus 'Black Beauty' (Sambucus nigra 'Gerda' PP12305, Canadian BRAF) and Sambucus 'Black Lace' (Sambucus nigra 'Eva'ppaf) are two recent introductions that add depth and interest to any garden with their deep purple, almost black foliage.

Sambucus Black Beauty

Sambucus Black Beauty was introduced in Europe in 2000 and came to the U.S. in 2004. The Black-Purple foliage provides interest all season but looks especially rich when the soft pink blossoms appear in early summer. Masses of blooms cover the plant and give off a slight lemon fragrance. Flowers are followed by dark purple berries, popular with birds and winemakers.

As with most Sambucus, Sambucus Black Beauty is a carefree grower and very versatile in the landscape.

  • Zones: 4 to 7
  • Exposure: Full sun, for best color
  • Bloom time: Begins in late June
  • Size: 6 to 8 feet high and wide with age. Can be easily maintained as a smaller plant or trained into a small tree
  • Soil: Adaptable to many soils, moderate moisture.

Sambucus Black Lace

Sambucus Black Lace (Sambucus nigra 'Eva' ppaf) is lacy, finely-cut foliage and even darker than Black Beauty. If you didn't know better, you would mistake Sambucus Black Lace for a Japanese Maple. But unlike Japanese Maples, Sambucus Black Lace is an easy growing, durable shrub.

The wonderful foliage is accented by creamy pink flowers that turn into red berries in the fall. You can make wine or jam or leave them on the plants and enjoy the birds who come to feed.

Black Lace is very cold hardy. It was originally labeled a Zone 6 but so far has handled conditions down to Zone 4. Black Lace can be pruned to fit most gardens or grouped to form a dramatic hedge.

  • Zones: 4 to 7
  • Exposure: Full sun for best color
  • Bloom time: Early summer
  • Size: 6 to 8 feet high and wide. Can be kept smaller with regular pruning or trained into a small tree.
  • Soil: Tolerant of most